Failed Intentions

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Last night I had every intention of playing the Mass Effect Andromeda trial, however that did not actually happen.  It of course needed to install, and one of the things about Final Fantasy XIV is that when something is thrashing the hard drive…  like a game download it becomes nigh unplayable.  I’ve seen many games that are cpu bound, and even more than a graphics card bound…  but FFXIV is the first game I have played ever that was truly hard drive bound.  In theory I am guessing this is a side effect of needing to run on systems like the PS3 where there are simply not that many system resources, so instead of loading a bunch of stuff in memory the game is constantly caching bite sized chunks of the world.  The end result works extremely well, and is probably why the game seems to be able to run on literally anything.  However it also means that last night while Mass Effect was installing I could not partake of my most common PC diversion…  chain running Palace of the Dead.  So instead I decided to filter off to the bedroom to “play a little Zelda while the game installed” and wound up playing until midnight.  I said this over twitter the other day and I will repeat it again…  that I feel like it is a testament to just how damned good this game is that I have very serious issues with certain aspects of it and still find myself constantly playing it.

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The thing that I find absolutely amazing about it is how well it supports my “oooh a piece of candy” approach to most games.  I am not following any semblance of a pattern in exploring this world and the game seems completely fine with that.  I feel like I have barely scratched the first three areas… and then found myself wandering into Zora’s Domain last night and following that chain of events.  A good chunk of the night was spent trying to unlock towers….  only to find out that several of them are at least theoretically blocked by Guardians.  As of yet I really do not have a good answer for them…  and they are sort of a dalek-esc death force as they try and EXTERMINATE!  There is nothing quite like the change in music when a Guardian has locked onto you, because you know that any minute you are going to see the target on your back and you are frantically looking for anything that could serve as cover.  The other thing I really don’t have an answer to is spike traps, because I found a shrine in my extremely sporadic travels that was completely blocked by spikes… and the earlier answer was to get up high enough and glide down.  The problem this time is there really was nothing to actually glide down from…  so I am guessing that is simply not a puzzle I can solve at the moment.  The core of my gaming focus seems to be on finding shrines, beating shrines… and then going to find more shrines.  I literally was caught in this loop until midnight when I realized I probably should get some sleep considering I am driving to Dallas today.

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Based on the results of last weekends podcast…  there really is no way I can put into words why this game works for me.  Any time I attempt to explain it I get bogged down in the grindy aspects of it, and the constant hunt for new weapons.  However there is a core game here that is really damned amazing.  Once you remove the durability problems and the wonky gyro puzzles…  you are left with the core Zelda game I always wanted.  I feel about this world the same way as I felt about the original Legend of Zelda on the Nintendo.  It was this big open space with all sorts of mysteries to unlock.  Its the little things… like when you lift up a boulder and see an insect or frog scurry out from under it… that you can then catch and use to make potions.  The world feels vast and empty at times… but it really isn’t.  Every copse of trees is placed there with purpose and reason… and many hold puzzles that unlock one of the around 900 korok seeds that are available.  This is if nothing else a game about exploration and trying things until you can figure out how to make something work.  The shrines are essentially the ultimate form of this expression, and as I have gotten deeper into the game… they are no longer the “use this one effect” style and more “chain everything you know how to do in different ways” effect.  There was a puzzle last night where I had to use ice blocks to get objects out of the water… and throw them into a metal basket that I could then lift in the air with my magnetic ability and use the wall to tip the basket over and dump them onto a target.  It took me quite a bit to realize that was my end goal and how to maneuver all of the elements into place to get it to work…  and I found it an overall awesome experience.  The part that I find interesting is how much I don’t mind the constant “Game Over” screen, because there is almost always a save just around the corner from wherever you happened to die… and you can get right back into the action almost immediately.

Functionally this month has not gone at all like planned… I expected to be spending all of my time in Horizon Zero Dawn… and instead I seem to be logging way more hours in Zelda at the moment.  I also did not expect to be feverishly searching for a switch… with the realization that if I find one I will ultimately start over from scratch again.  In any case I need to wrap this up and get on the road.  Just a heads up to my loyal readers, I will not be doing a morning post tomorrow and instead be doing some sort of an evening post when I finally get home.  Until then I would love to hear your thoughts on Zelda and if it is nearly as sticky for you as it seems to be for me.

Rotational Hell

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Apparently according to Storm I am still logged into Final Fantasy XIV downstairs on the laptop…  so that is something that I am going to have to take care of before I head to work.  I ended up in that state because I had probably the worst Palace of the Dead run I have ever experienced.  Before leaving floor 51 we had to use the rez shrine three times…  because for whatever reason people kept running in to aggro entire rooms worth of mobs at the same time.  Had I been the last one standing I would have just wiped and ended the run.  However I kept trying to pull things out, but since I shifted to being a monk to level that job…  it just wasn’t happening.  So instead I wound up leaving the party and eating the 30 minute debuff that keeps me from queuing for anything else.  At which point I THOUGHT I logged out… and wandered off into the bedroom to play some Zelda, never to actually return.  I am not entirely certain why I find this game so damned compelling.  It is like an unsolved puzzle that I keep going back and fiddling with…  and while I don’t make a lot of progress in any attempt…  I keep plugging along.

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I have however found the absolute bane of my existence.  Firstly the game has a ton of shrines like the one pictured above scattered throughout the country side.  Inside of each is a puzzle that requires you to do something to utilize the various skills and abilities that you have collected to that point.  However there is one shrine type that I am absolutely certain was not designed for Wii U players.  Every so often you encounter these gyroscope gadgets that force you to stop using the Pro Controller and pick up the Wii U Fisher Price Little Tykes Gamepad.  I may be bitter about the Gamepad and its over sold promise of being able to play the console remotely from within your house…  so long as that somewhere is within 5 feet of the base unit.  Anyways the puzzle requires you to rotate the gamepad to solve it…  but it also requires you to do some super contorted angles that make you feel like you are steering a garbage barge down an interstate.  The primary problem however is the fact that when you are playing with the GamePad…  the video feed is ALSO on the game pad.  If I could figure out how to get this to work while holding the tablet but staring at the television I would probably be okayish with this process.  However during these puzzles it seems to always want to put the video feed on the tablet, which means that when I have to flip the tablet upside down or something stupid like that… it also means I have to contort myself in all sorts of bizarre positions so that I can still see the tablet screen.  I’ve completed two of these at this point and hated every minute of it, but I am just assuming these were designed for the much higher fidelity rotational sensors of the switch joycons… and that the Wii U players simply get fucked by an outdated experience.

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The only other real problem that I still have with this game is the durability bullshit.  You have to understand… that I am one of those players that finishes a Final Fantasy game with 500 potions of various kinds because I feel like I need to hold onto them for a moment when I “really need them”.  So when that moment never comes and the final credits roll…  I think why the hell did I hold onto those potions.  That said it is an instinct that I just cannot root out of me, and it is severely effecting my enjoyment of Zelda because I feel like I cannot risk using any weapon that is not complete and total crap…  because I might need it at a later date.  So instead I am using various sticks and clubs while I have a Guardian Sword sitting in my bag just waiting there, begging me to use its awesomeness.  Instead I have that and another awesome looking sword flagged as “for a boss fight” but you can damned well be certain that when said boss fight comes along… I am going to try and defeat them with a bunch of expendable garbage first.  I think part of it is the simple fact that I never quite know exactly when I am going to get my next reasonable weapon.  If there were a swordsmith in one of the towns… then I could at least know that I could keep returning to them and stocking up on good weapons and shift my mindset to farming rupies to pay that upkeep.  So instead I am just stuck in this indecision hell of not knowing when I can and cannot use reasonable weapons for fear that I might be stuck in a bad situation with a bad chock full of worthless crap.

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For a game that causes me so much internal strife… I am constantly amazed that I keep returning to it.  Every time I see the game over screen…  I keep hitting the button and starting again trying to sort out what went wrong during the fight.  This is not a souls game, but I am sort of playing it as though it were.  I still think however this would be a much better experience on the Switch and I am constantly annoyed with myself for not pre-ordering.  I knew this would happen.  I knew that a combination of demand and Nintendo’s piss poor supply chain management would end up with no units available for purchase.  I’ve checked every place I can think to check and now am simply resigned to hope for one of a handful of places to restock, which is supposedly coming mid April.  The other level of hell that I have wandered into… is that I am now trying to collect the Zelda related Amiibos because you can get nifty shit in game for using them once a day.  Those also seem to be completely sold out, and each day at lunch I have been venturing to new places to see if they happen to have any left.  For a game that obviously frustrates me… I cannot put my finger on why I am finding it so damned sticky.  It reminds me of the feeling you have when you are watching a horror film and screaming at the person not to go into the closet…  but also at the same time wanting them to go in…  so you know what is inside the closet.  Zelda Breath of the Wild is a deeply conflicted experience…  but man do I at least on some level deeply love it.

Ballad of Cowboy Ninja

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This weekend largely belonged to Final Fantasy XIV and the brief appearance of the Cowboy Ninja.  One of the huge benefits of leveling through Palace of the Dead is the fact that you end up with a bunch of treasure tokens…  that often times reward awesome cosmetic gear.  Pretty early into my process of pushing the Ninja from 38 to 50 this weekend I stumbled across the above Cowboy hat and from that point out my path was set.  I gathered a bunch of appearance goodies that I had collected from running the dungeon over and over…  namely because my appropriate level gear was a subligar and harness.  The three main appearance items that all came from palace of the dead are of course the Boarskin Survival Hat, Survival Shirt, and the Wind Silk Bottoms which are these bizarro red plaid pants.  Through out the weekend I ran the dungeon wearing this outfit and gathered up a bunch of commendations… I largely believe in appearance alone.  I am still around 25 coms away from my golden magitek mount so… in truth anything I can do to rake them in is a bonus!

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I think another huge factor for getting coms is being talkative in dungeon runs.  While Final Fantasy XIV tends to be a much more friendly experience as a whole than World of Warcraft, it is still a largely quiet one… especially when it comes to grinding Palace of the Dead 51-60 over and over.  Everyone more or less knows their roles and falls silently in place doing them, and I try my best to break up this monotony with some comments here and there.  I always start the dungeon run with a “Hey Folks :)” and finish with some variant of “Thanks for the run. Have a good one!” and then I watch as the coms slowly trickle in.  Sure it is formulaic, but it seems to work…  and the truth is I usually get responses back from the other players which is part of my larger goal of breaking the silence and getting folks interacting.  I mean it is not so formulaic that I have a macro set up or anything…  so there is at least that.  Regardless I hit 50 during Talking Dead last night and started working my way through the Ninja quests.  I had forgotten that I had a full set of high quality level 115 gear sitting in my bank waiting on me, that I picked up while questing my way through Heavensward.  So I also now look like a proper ninja as well.

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The other thing that I spent a significant amount of time playing this weekend was Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.  At this point I have made a proper foothold in the world beyond the plateau, and in my travels I met Hestu.  I am pretty sure he is my spirit animal… and all he really wants to do is shake his maracas for people.  Thankfully by the time I encountered him I already had a few seeds to throw his ways, which I got by uncovering the hiding places of some of the Korok.  I still have this very mixed relationship with this game.  On one hand there are a bunch of things that I would love to change…  and on the other hand I just can’t seem to stop playing it.  There are absolutely things that feel needlessly obtuse and arcane…  but by the same token you feel rewarded when you finally figure out how this or that system works.  In many ways it reminds me of when I first set foot into Minecraft and had no clue how to craft anything at all… and simply started throwing things into the crafting bench to see what I might be able to make with it.  Cooking works exactly this way, and while I have no clue how to duplicate some of my efforts…  every now and then I get something truly awesome in the process.

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Another thing that is needlessly arcane is the process of taking screenshots from the Wii U.  For awhile I have known that you can hit home… click Miiverse and save a screenshot through that method.  The problem there is that there is really no way of actually getting at that screenshot other than looking in your album in Miiverse.  I mean you can share it with other people using Miiverse… but is anyone actually using Nintendo’s pseudo social network?  As a blogger I of course want access to the screenshots for the purpose of posting them on this blog, and in order to do that… you have to follow a completely different process.  The process begins much the same as the Miiverse route, but instead after hitting home you bring up your browser and navigate to this address…  i.nintendo.net.  This process will bring you to a “Nintendo Image Share” page that will allow you to connect to Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr and post whatever happens to be on your screen at the moment you bring up the browser.  This in theory works on 3DS as well, but I have yet to test it out.  The images of me in Kakariko Village and of Hestu were snapped in this manor and it seems to work extremely well.  I mean like everything to do with Nintendo it is needlessly complicated… but it works.  As always I configured my Wii U to post to my screenshot twitter account that I have connected to the PS4 as well.  I highly suggest having a secondary account for screenshots… that way you can without feeling bad dump twenty screenshots in a single night.  I do however need to check this out on the 3DS and see if this will finally allow me to get proper screengrabs of the games I am playing there.  How was your weekend?

High Sodium and Paragliding

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This morning I am going to start the blog out with some tales of high sodium content.  It is safe to say that the Final Fantasy XIV “serious gamer” community is grumpy as hell right now.  Essentially the downtime on Thursday introduced the return of the Diadem… which is functionally what Free Company airships are used for… and also something that I have never actually gotten the chance to participate.  My understanding is it is a giant outdoor timed hunt zone of a sort, that has lots of mini objectives that then can reward chests full of loot.  I am always down for Square to revitalize content that has fallen by the wayside… I am looking at you hunt marks.  However why folks are super salty about this is that apparently there is a phenomenally rare chance at getting a 280 weapon to drop while doing the content.  This is of note 5 item levels higher than either the latest relic step or the weapons from Savage Alexander.  Ashgar posted a comment in our podcast slack that I can only assume came from reddit…

Can confirm, am salty.

Then I did some napkin math and if one person of the 72 players who participated wanted to get a specific weapon out of the 13 available, they’d need to do the Emergency Mission 1000 times to have a reasonable (read around 65%) of obtaining it. For a 90% chance of obtaining it, you’d need to put 2200 attempts into Emergency Missions.

If you play the roughly 2350 hours we have until we get early access to SB, you will at one emergency mission per hour, distribute 150 hours of sleep and non FFXIV related over 98 days, lets say you spend 30 min each day on food, personaly hygiene etc. and you will sleep for 1 hour per day. This is, of course, calculated with queue times estimated as 0, which I’m sure they will be. /s

So the thing is… getting one of these 280 weapons is quite literally winning the lottery.  It is not something anyone can reasonably aspire to, but serves as enough of a carrot to get people interested at all item levels of gear to start doing Diadem once more.  This absolutely fits the modus operadi of Yoshi P and crew… which is largely bribing players to do whatever content that they feel is under represented by placing the big new shiny rewards there.  What I don’t get however is the folks claiming they are going to cancel the game over this action.  This has been the way content is balanced from the beginning of A Realm Reborn…  and nifty things through bribery is a constant theme.  This does not however negate the work you put in on either a Alex weapon, or your Relic because nothing can ever tarnish the shine of those memories.  If you are playing a game only to have things no one else will ever have…  then you are probably playing for all of the wrong reasons.  Numerical perfection is a constantly moving target, and one that will be outdated the next time a new patch lands.  However if you just play for the joy of playing… and the memories of accomplishing content with your friends… then no one can ever take that from you.  What I see instead is a company throwing one hell of a carrot into content that would have easily become outdated the second it launched, and more importantly is a way of getting folks geared in 265 gear which will help their transition into Stormblood.

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One again I am super annoyed with having to snag screenshots from the web and use them in my posts when I talk about Breath of the Wild.  The Wii U is so cludgy when it comes to posting screenshots, but I suppose at some point I really need to figure out how to make it work.  Last night instead of hanging out on the sofa or upstairs… I opted to chill in the bedroom and play some more Zelda.  As of the end of last night I have officially left the starter zone, and in truth the biggest thing holding me back… was the fact that I could not figure out how in the holy hell to cook things.  My key problem with Zelda is that things just feel grossly un-intuitive.  For example…  I expected to be able to walk up to a cooking pot… and see a “Press Button to Cook” prompt.  However this never actually happened and instead I had to google it… and then google it again until I found someone who could explain it in simple enough terms to treat me as though I understood nothing about this game.  There are a lot of steps to this process that are not painfully obvious or were not to me.  First off you have to make sure that your cooking pot has a fire under it…  so for me that meant taking a branch…  catching it on fire and then whacking the cooking pot which then lit the wood underneath it.  From there you have to go into your inventory and press X on the materials to “hold” it.  That however is not enough… you have to press A to add the item to your arms…  and you go through and pick out the ingredients you want to cook doing this.

Finally when you exit the menu… you see the prompt to cook the items link is crudely holding…  and you are treated to maybe the most magical tune ever.  Like I am already hooked on cooking because I want to hear that tune over and over and over… and I tried cooking damned never everything in my inventory that looked even vaguely edible.  There is a completely magical remix that blends the tune with the Carmen Sandiego theme.  The cooking gave me access to frost resistance food… which then in turn gave me access to the last two shrines which allowed me to leave newbie plateau.  I feel like maybe I am starting to hit my stride with this game, and maybe stopping the comparison with Horizon?  Probably the highlight of last night for me was finding the Great Plateau Steppe Talus and then defeating it…  after so damned many deaths.  One of the things that I like about this game is that the auto save points seem to be sprinkled around just often enough… that you are really never losing too much time in making an attempt.  So for the Steppe Talus, the save point was just outside of the little valley it is in so I could quickly run back and keep trying things until I finally defeated it.  The trick for me was to try and stay on at all costs which meant sometimes crawling back down into climbing mode, and other times just simply running around on top to make sure I didn’t get knocked off.  The hardest part however was once again the fact that no one weapon would ever last more than a handful of swings so I literally killed it…  with a single weapon left in my inventory.  This made it extremely awkward trying to kill a handful of skeletons that spawned as I was walking out of the valley.  Whatever the case… I think I see the potential now for what boss fights might be like and I also sort of get the reference to souls games.  That term gets thrown around way too much lately, but in this case I think they largely mean the need to keep learning new tricks to defeat overwhelming odds.  In the case of the Steppe Talus, if I got hit once… with a solid enough hit it was simply over.  So I very much had to stay ahead of the combat, and only through not making any mistakes was I really able to defeat it.

Cars and Wielding Garbage

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I said this over the weekend and I feel like I need to reiterate it this morning.  For a little over a month my wife has been passively looking for a new vehicle.  When she hit 120,000 miles on her Pontiac Torrent all sorts of little things started failing.  The latest is a check engine light being caused by something in the engine emission filters… which in itself isn’t a huge deal apart from the fact that it disables remote start while the engine is in an error code.  So for a month now I have been receiving links to vehicles from my wife, and we’ve made a few ventures out to car lots to see what we think of various models.  There is an auto lot within a mile of the house that leaves all of the vehicles unlocked so that it is sort of a tradition to go there on Sunday when you to check out various vehicles unmolested by sales people.  There are a lot of vehicles that got marked off of the list simply because my knees would not fit underneath the dash, and some others the first time my wife test drove them.  We had narrowed things down to a half dozen different models, and one lot about an hour from where we live seemed to have all of them.  The irony is  that when we ultimately bought a vehicle…  it wasn’t even one that was on the short list.  The whole car buying experience thought feels foreign to me, and grossly outdated.  During this whole sequence of events we found out that no car lot has anything even resembling updated inventory on their website.  Its like this entire process is stuck somewhere back in the 1960s and never quite graduated to modernity.

My wife and I are both very data-centric people…  and actively reject the “personal touch” that car salesmen try and put on the deal.  Fortunately we maybe found the perfect sales person for us, who literally just handed us the keys to the vehicles we wanted to check out and left us completely alone to wander around the small town.  Over the course of the day we drove I think five different vehicles, and spent a ton of time on our phones researching each of them while sitting in said vehicle.  The problem is… a vehicle seems to permanent.  We are not the type to trade them off frequently and instead tend to buy a vehicle and drive it until past the point it is paid off.  Finally it came down to a dance of “funny math” which is frustrating as shit.  Ultimately the dance involved the monthly payment rate, and a thin line in the sand that we were not willing to budge off of, which meant that in order to seal the deal given that we were not trading in a vehicle…  that the dealership had to come down off the price a bit.  There was a funny sequence of events where the dealer and my wife were both on their phones using the exact same financing calculator app trying to reach a consensus of numbers.  Whatever the case we wound up buying, after an  entire day of looking at this one lot…  and made it home just in time for the AggroChat podcast.

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The other big happening of the weekend is that I now have Zelda Breath of the Wild in my grubby little hands.  No that does not mean I have a switch, but instead have been playing it on the Wii U.  The screenshots I will be posting are not mine, but instead ones I have scavenged from the internet, because I do not have my Wii U set up so that it can go through a capture card… and I have never quite figured out how the hell to take a screenshot on the console itself.  Even more so I have no clue how to POST a screenshot someplace I can actually snag it if I did take a screenshot.  I have to say I have really mixed emotions about this game, and in truth I have barely just scratched the surface.  I’ve cleared two of the early plateau shrines and have been trying to figure out how to get to a third one that is in a snowy region.  Any time I get close to it, I start taking ticks of damage from the cold…  and this is the point where I realized that there was a temperature gauge in the UI.  The first hurdle that I have been trying to get past is the controls themselves.  The default mapping of buttons is not that great to use… with jump being assigned to X at the top of the button layout… where I am much more used to it being B at the bottom of the button layout.  This however apparently is something you can fix, but the other problem is I am so used to using triggers as weapon attacks in modern games and keep accidentally throwing whatever weapon I have equipped when I accidentally hit the right bumper.

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The other big problem I have been having is that so far the game has the “Halo problem” for me.  What I mean by that is that in Halo you have to constantly keep switching off weapons and wind up using some absolutely trash to try and progress through levels.  The same thing is happening here… where a given weapon seems to last maybe one or two combat sequences before it breaks and I have to hurriedly swap to some other random piece of junk I picked up along the way.  I’ve killed plenty of things by beating it down with a skeleton arm and I am not super proud of it.  This is a Zelda game… I want to use a sword and a shield and until the game gives me some sort of permanent option for this I am not going to be terribly happy.  It gave me a foresters axe early on… and I loved that weapon…  right up until the point that it broke and now I feel like I am constantly robbed of the amount of fun I had using it.  My fear is that I am going to bounce pretty soon if the game does not end up giving me some unlimited durability weapons that I can just use as often as I like.  As far as the goods however… once I got used to the clunky controls it does in fact feel like an open world Zelda.  I like that I can choose my own battles and that I see enemy camps usually well ahead of them actually attacking me.  There was a cool sequence where there were a bunch of bow wielding characters up in a tower with no visible way to get up.  However there was a draw bridge and I was able to sever the ropes holding it up with arrows causing it to fall down below and giving me access.  This is a primary example of the sort of visual puzzle solving that seems to be going on in this game, and the early shrines I believe are teaching you a toolbox that can then be used later in the game to solve more complex puzzles.  I do however absolutely want to stab the “Old Man” or at least push him off the tower, because I find him really annoying.